I for one welcome our to be announced overlords...
December 1, 2010 9:09 PM   Subscribe

“NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST (11am PST) on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.” Watch it HERE live.

NASA Watch blog theorizes it is "Arsenic-based biochemistry" regarding "the implications for the origin of life on Earth, how it may have happened more than once on our planet, and the implications for life arising elsewhere in the universe." Noting that "NASA has not found life on any other world."

Astrobiology Magazine goes a little further to discuss potential "Slime Worlds"

Other theories are being spread that "they've discovered arsenic on Titan and maybe even detected chemical evidence of bacteria utilizing it for photosynthesis..."

I myself am hoping for something supermassively larger, perhaps a planet eating sentient ala Galactus...
posted by Sprocket (102 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA
ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE
posted by Ratio at 9:14 PM on December 1, 2010 [31 favorites]


How many hours until assimilation?
posted by mannequito at 9:15 PM on December 1, 2010


I just realized the Slime World link is over a year old, but it is still mostly relevant!

sorry, this is my first FPP :)
posted by Sprocket at 9:15 PM on December 1, 2010


Yeah, yeah, wheel out the aliens they've been holding at Area 51 to distract the press from Wikileaks... typical...
posted by pompomtom at 9:21 PM on December 1, 2010 [15 favorites]


Majikthise and Vroomfondel will demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. It's no big secret.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:25 PM on December 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


Everyone is way, way off track. They lost Neptune. Why else would they be so sheepish about it? They lost Neptune and now NASA is making their astronomers tell Neptune's mom in front of everyone.
posted by greenland at 9:32 PM on December 1, 2010 [15 favorites]


ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA
FUCK WHY IS CAPS LOCK ON
TRANSCENDENT SPACE BABY CANT EVEN FIX CAPS LOCK
FUCK
ALLRIGHT JUST SEND US ARSENIC
DELICIOUS ARSENIC
posted by Avenger at 9:34 PM on December 1, 2010 [62 favorites]


Unless I get a jetpack out of this, it's just more wild speculation.....
posted by HuronBob at 9:38 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


They lost Neptune.

First we lost Pluto, and now Neptune?!? I sure hope someone has an eye on Uranus.
posted by ericost at 9:38 PM on December 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Anticipating the news, I think, is mostly just a form of entertainment. TV presenters discovered this long ago, and now it's everywhere -- SOON we're going to show you SOMETHING just works as a media strategy.

But from the point of view of gaining knowledge, the real stuff, well, I'd just as soon wait till 2pm. (And probs so could this post?)

Hype almost always leads to disappointment, after all, because the hypers know that their work won't really be checked.
posted by grobstein at 9:41 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


First we lost Pluto, and now Neptune?!? I sure hope someone has an eye on Uranus.

The line must be drawn here.
posted by notion at 9:44 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hah. The UK's Daily Mail is claiming that it relates to the discovery of some sort of extremophile bacteria in California that can survive in arsenic.

Which I guess is kind of cool. If you're into that sort of thing.
posted by RockBandit at 9:47 PM on December 1, 2010


Good news, everyone!
posted by oinopaponton at 9:49 PM on December 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


So ... this news conference you mention? Will there be cookies?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:51 PM on December 1, 2010


someone has an eye on Uranus.

It's funny you should mention that. I mean, I thought we'd be right back, and it wouldn't be a problem that I forgot to pack it, but it's been years, and I'm kind of tired of wearing an eye-patch.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:57 PM on December 1, 2010


Arsenic and Old Lace and Bacterial Life

and Zombies

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


cheif: Hey fellas. The new congress is determined to instate all kinds of austerity measures. So why don't you cook up a press release about something really crazy!"

PR-peon: How about that Extrasolar planet we just discovered?

Cheif: No, we need something crazier. It is our asses on the line, man! Think, damn you. THINK!
posted by munchingzombie at 10:07 PM on December 1, 2010


I'm sad to quell some of the @kottke-induced excitement about possible extraterrestrial life. I've seen the Science paper. It's not that.
posted by shothotbot at 10:12 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am preemptively disappointed.
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:13 PM on December 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh holy crap ...

I read the post as NSA being the agency involved instead of NASA, which didn't correct itself in my brain until I clicked the link to the thread. I was thinking this is it, we're gonna meet aliens now, and given who is announcing it there is a good chance this won't be a pleasant announcement. The NSA is going to reveal itself as doing something far beyond what most people imagined an intel agency would do, and it's so obvious the most secretive branch of our intelligence services be involved with this kind of thing.

Except they weren't.

OK, so back to the boring truth ... what is it the aliens are made out of now? Asbestos? Absinthe?

Is the punchline that the aliens are us? Or that soylent green is people? That would be a problem, because it's so very delicious and born with original sin ...
posted by krinklyfig at 10:16 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did NBC hire NASA as part of a viral campaign to boost the ratings for 'The Event'?
posted by Tenuki at 10:17 PM on December 1, 2010


I hate to thread-shit, but why is this allowed? The posts about the imminent releases on wikileaks were deleted and told to wait until the things were actually released. Is this different in some way that I'm not seeing?
posted by wayland at 10:17 PM on December 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


One is a document dump and one is a live press conference that Mefites might be interested in watching.
posted by Tenuki at 10:27 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


shothotbot, I was debating between the word 'theorized' and 'rumored.' Neither really seemed to work properly.

wayland, I just thought most humans might be interested in watching a live viewing of something that "will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life."

The sort of 'I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot' versus 'I remember seeing it on youtube a day later' sort of thing. I certainly don't want to miss it.
posted by Sprocket at 10:31 PM on December 1, 2010


Ah, I understand now. Thanks!
posted by wayland at 10:35 PM on December 1, 2010


I've got 100 tones of slood coming in on Friday and you guys are still here?
posted by edgeways at 10:36 PM on December 1, 2010


With the World Cup announcement tomorrow morning and NASA astrobiology announcement tomorrow afternoon, I think that we should just get the day off from work.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 10:48 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot

I remember the last time NASA scheduled a press conference like this. It was basically nothing.
posted by ryanrs at 11:12 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was hoping that the NASA announcement was going to be a new album. I guess life outside of Earth is Ok, too.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:27 PM on December 1, 2010


I want to believe.
posted by Chuffy at 11:42 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, so, it's not about this?
posted by cthuljew at 11:42 PM on December 1, 2010


ryanrs, just an example, not a proof.
posted by Sprocket at 11:53 PM on December 1, 2010


Felisa Wolfe-Simon is featured in this documentary about (amongst other things) Mono Lake in California.

This documentary in fact shows most of the findings that will be presented in the press conference tonight.

2 links, i don't know if people outside of The Netherlands can watch it, but i think you can:

Labyrinth 1

Labyrinth 2
posted by Substrata at 12:14 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


They lost Neptune.

First we lost Pluto, and now Neptune?!? I sure hope someone has an eye on Uranus.


The TSA's got you covered. (Obligatory topical snark you trolled for.)
posted by Philofacts at 12:34 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Felisa Wolfe, discoverer of arsenic based dna lifeforms, working with mud.
posted by Substrata at 12:35 AM on December 2, 2010


Yes - I've been waiting for the Beatles to be available on iNASA forever.....
posted by brettski at 1:15 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


They're just trying to get ahead of the documentary film about the truth of Apollo 18!
posted by nomadicink at 2:22 AM on December 2, 2010


"Welcome, our arsenic-breathed friends from another..."
*ack*
*thump*
posted by pracowity at 4:10 AM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Evidently, once B. S. Masters, LLC landed the WikiLeaks PR account the important clients just beat a path to their door.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:15 AM on December 2, 2010


I don't know whether to favorite this or flag it as "needs to be deleted for self-consistency".
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on December 2, 2010


Here is my prediction: Unless NASA has found proof of large-breasted nymphomaniac alien women on Titan, nerds everywhere will be disappointed by whatever is announced today.

For three days now the headlines have all been along the lines of "Has NASA discovered E.T.?" and the answer is most definitely "no."

Which is a total shame.
posted by bondcliff at 6:03 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Iron Lisa
posted by gubo at 6:10 AM on December 2, 2010


If they were nerdy enough they could announce that they found John Glenn's missing cuff link and they'd be excited.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:14 AM on December 2, 2010


It's a cookbook!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:24 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hope that when Wolfe-Simon is about to explain her discovery Tom Skerritt doesn't butt in and take credit for it.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:33 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you live in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, run like fuck.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:36 AM on December 2, 2010


What happens if we find extraterrestrial life and they turn out to be beings who are more advanced than we are and we force them to meet with us and then we find out that they're really unpleasant and mean to us and more powerful and they decide to use humans as an energy source for their transport fleet?
posted by anniecat at 6:45 AM on December 2, 2010


Good morning. [Turns on mic] Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We're fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:47 AM on December 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is Bibble (NSFW)
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:52 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]



What happens if we find extraterrestrial life and they turn out to be beings who are more advanced than we are and we force them to meet with us and then we find out that they're really unpleasant and mean to us and more powerful and they decide to use humans as an energy source for their transport fleet?


Or - and I'm just jawin' here - what if we're the more advanced species, and it turns out that the extraterrestrials are composed primarily of long hydrocarbon chains suitable for refining and distribution using extant infrastructure? Makes you wonder*, who's the real monster then, huh?**



*No it doesn't.

**IT'S MAN!!!!

posted by logicpunk at 6:52 AM on December 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Lord John Whorfin: Where are we going?
The Red Lectroids: Planet Ten!
Lord John Whorfin: When?
The Red Lectroids: Real soon!
posted by kirkaracha at 6:59 AM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


First we lost Pluto, and now Neptune?!? I sure hope someone has an eye on Uranus.

» rimshot «
posted by aught at 7:42 AM on December 2, 2010


logicpunk: "...Or - and I'm just jawin' here - what if we're the more advanced species, and it turns out that the extraterrestrials are composed primarily of long hydrocarbon chains suitable for refining and distribution using extant infrastructure? Makes you wonder*, who's the real monster then, huh?**



*No it doesn't.

**IT'S MAN!!!!
"

Dude...

Spoiler Warnings. PLEASE!
posted by symbioid at 8:22 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a writeup of what the announcement is set to be about.

I should say it's rather more exciting than simply finding extremophile bacteria. This appears to mean that the phrase "life as we know it" means something different now than it did previously. Sure, it's only bacteria, and it's on Earth, but there it is.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:31 AM on December 2, 2010


From FM's link: ...something that was thought to be completely impossible. While she and other scientists theorized that this could be possible...

Wait, what?
posted by solotoro at 9:40 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Call me when they find a NON-carbon based lifeform... meh.
posted by symbioid at 9:50 AM on December 2, 2010


Nature.com wasn't subject to the embargo, I guess?: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101202/full/news.2010.645.html
posted by statolith at 9:52 AM on December 2, 2010


Wait - actually this other thing about Red Dwarfs is more interesting to me.
The total number of stars in the Universe "is likely three times bigger than realized." Yale University astronomer Pieter van Dokkum says there are "possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars," dramatically increasing the possibility of finding alien civilizations.
OK, so we've found a huge new amount of mass in the universe, yeah? So... How much does this reduce the need for Dark Matter? What does this tell us about such things? Is it miniscule compared to the amount of Dark Matter we hypothesize or does it take a big chunk out of the missing matter or even completely eliminate it???
posted by symbioid at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2010


Link to the Nature.com article for the extremely lazy.
Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a geomicrobiologist and NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow based at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, and her colleagues report online today in Science that a member of the Halomonadaceae family of proteobacteria can use arsenic in place of phosphorus.
posted by statolith at 9:55 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Color me not disappointed. If the arsenic information is accurate, this is really huge. Up to today, we had evidence for only one chemical basis for life. Now we have two data points, which makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that life has the ability to harness a great variety of building blocks for its seamy, self-perpetuating purposes. Like so many discoveries in the history of astronomy and cosmology, we once again discover that we have overestimated our privileged place in the universe, and that far more is possible than we've previously dreamt of in our philosophy. Couple this with the news from the other day about how we've underestimated the number of stars by 3x, and it's been quite a week.
posted by dust of the stars at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2010 [14 favorites]


The Guardian story tracker page has a lot of links and reaction pullquotes.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:47 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Video on the NASA site isn't loading for me, so I'm trusting y'all to tell me here if we're about to be invaded by arsenic-eating zombies.
posted by ErikaB at 11:05 AM on December 2, 2010


No extraterrestrial life :(
posted by x_3mta3 at 11:09 AM on December 2, 2010


I'm watching the press conference. NASA Video isn't loading for me and CNN is infuriating me with its interruptions, but I'm tearing up. Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon even mentioned Carl Sagan. Aw jeez guys, this is huge. *hugs life*
posted by luminous phenomena at 11:13 AM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Try this link. http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-tv-hd
posted by typewriter at 11:15 AM on December 2, 2010


Whoops. Here.
posted by typewriter at 11:16 AM on December 2, 2010


Life is good.
posted by tommasz at 11:40 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is thrilling. But God, her cutesy wootsy way of presenting her findings is irritating.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:44 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is terrible news. If the new alien lifeform eats up all the arsenic, what will old spinster ladies put in their tea to poison people?
posted by jbickers at 11:45 AM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Okay, so it isn't about an extraterrestrial life form, but it IS about an extra terrestrial life form, which is still pretty cool.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:45 AM on December 2, 2010 [14 favorites]


Ustream feed keeps freezing up on me, too. I guess this is more traffic than they're used to, as the site is normally just to watch people playing fighting games or DJing.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2010


NASA lady just compared it to finding a Horta. I am now going to have a fatal nerdgasm.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:54 AM on December 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


The pessimist in me notes that while this makes life a little bit more likely, it also increases the probability that any alien ecology we find will be incompatible in ways that are likely to be painfully fatal.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:55 AM on December 2, 2010


GAH I've been looking forward to watching this for days, but I forgot to bring headphones to work. The horror.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:08 PM on December 2, 2010


This is an outrage! Impeach NASA! How did I ever vote for this tool? We need a space agency that's more like LBJ. What a bunch of wimps, with their half-assed discoveries!

/hamburger

(But seriously, this is great news.)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:09 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


NASA needs more funding. We're not going to find aliens by sifting through terrestrial lakes or spying with telescopes. Everybody knows the way to do it is to build a great big rocket ship, go to another planet with the intent to obtain phlebotinum, and then be surprised.

Hopefully the alien surprise will be wacky fun, and not gruesome carnage. Either way though, we need rocket ships. Sleek 1950s ones with fins.

(This is pretty neat. Has fiction tackled toxic aliens beyond putting them in people-shaped suits?)
posted by cmyk at 12:18 PM on December 2, 2010


I'm just glad it didn't turn out to be a scooter that doesn't tip over.
posted by steambadger at 12:20 PM on December 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


I hear now they're searching for bacteria made of Old Lace.
posted by klangklangston at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


How soon before people start complaining about government money being spent to document aliens in California?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:58 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


They're not aliens. They're Arsenic-Americans.

And, I should note, they were here before the white man.
posted by GuyZero at 3:14 PM on December 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


Me: Meh.
Scientist friend: No, it's amazing. You're just too stupid to understand why.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:28 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Horta fans!

Go to the 5:50 mark here.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:49 PM on December 2, 2010


I'm confused. It's way past the conference time, and I have been flying down the Highway of Tears, listening to CBC radio all day with bated breath, but nary a peep. So what new, incredibly momentous, Stop The Presses! you must hear this! thing actually happened?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:08 PM on December 2, 2010


Yawn. Turns out that life is possible outside of the constrained parameters that the thoroughly unimaginative constrained themselves with. Duh.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:03 PM on December 2, 2010


PareiodoliaticBoy: What they found is a species of bacteria living in Mona Lake that uses arsenic in its backbone instead of phosphorous. They alo claimed that it was Life without phosphorous.

This finding was actually covered by Through the Wormhole earlier this summer, and NASA's press conference was mostly confirmation.

The question that wasn't answered explicitly is whether this bacteria is a member of our domain of life that's just using a chemical hack to keep its DNA stable in an extreme environment, or wether this bateria has NO phosphorous in its metabolism at all. The latter would suggest that it's from a completely separate domain, outside our tree.

That would make it as alien to us as bug eyed monsters from Zeta Zeticuli. Obviously NASA needs another decade of funding to figure this out.
posted by clarknova at 7:06 PM on December 2, 2010


er, sorry, the Through the Wormhole episode should link here. It's also a lot more watchable than that segment of the NASA press conference, which features the same biologist, but painfully unedited.
posted by clarknova at 7:08 PM on December 2, 2010


clarknova: This summary says that the bacteria are probably descended from the same phosphorus-using cells we are:
Astrobiologists found the arsenic-based bacteria while looking for a possible "second genesis" of life on Earth. […] Last year study leader Felisa Wolfe-Simon of NASA's Astrobiology Institute published a paper suggesting that one possible version of Life 2.0 would be a creature that chemically substitutes arsenic for phosphorus.

[…]

Despite their oddity, however, [the GFAJ-1 strain found in Mono Lake] are genetically too similar to ordinary life to truly be descendents of a second genesis. "This is not Life 2.0," Davies said.
posted by hattifattener at 7:37 PM on December 2, 2010


So the microbes survived with no phosphorus in high levels of arsenic. The small amounts of phosphorus naturally found in the DNA is replaced by arsenic. Nothing like that has existed until now. They are not found in nature, this was done in a lab, though the microbes originally came from an arsenic rich lake. None of this has really been proven to a point or evaluated by other scientists yet. And we were told about it an irritating, overly narrative, and pretentious way by the lady scientist.
posted by Sprocket at 8:18 PM on December 2, 2010


I've read a fair bit about this, and so far I haven't seen the obvious quote. So I'll throw it in for completeness:

It's life Jim, but not as we know it.
posted by meinvt at 8:39 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


As I said, none of this is even mildly surprising. As for the incredibly over the top analogy that this would be like KENNEDY'S ASSASSINATION, this is nothing like that, actually. It`s more like my sister announcing that her 1970 Barbie Dream House is fetching 12% more on EBay than when she bought it.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:03 PM on December 2, 2010


You guys oughta head down to NASA and straighten them out about what real science is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:10 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lots of skepticism at that Guardian tracker page Rhomboid linked above. Steven Benner is getting quoted a lot:

But Steven Benner, a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Fla., remains skeptical. If you "replace all the phosphates by arsenates," in the backbone of DNA, he said, "every bond in that chain is going to hydrolyze [react with water and fall apart] with a half-life on the order of minutes, say 10 minutes." So "if there is an arsenate equivalent of DNA in that bug, it has to be seriously stabilized" by some as-yet-unknown mechanism, Benner said.

and

"I do not see any simple explanation for the reported results that is broadly consistent with other information well known to chemistry," he says....Benner didn’t dismiss the experiment out of hand, though, saying that it would be straightforward to do more tests on the alleged arsenic-DNA molecules to see if that’s what they really are.
posted by mediareport at 9:15 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


As I said, none of this is even mildly surprising.

Yeah, these scientists wondering whether life-forms can be made of pure poison have obviously never watched FOX News.
posted by logopetria at 12:04 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


xkcd's take on the press conference.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:05 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anything can be a poison given the right conditions. What we do know for sure is that life is ubiquitous. There are undoubtedly life forms that we won't ever be able to comprehend or perceive. For all we know the colour blue is a life form. Perhaps the universe is a life form, as any pot-smoker can testify. It's pretty much a given that other life forms throughout the universe will be based on entirely different processes from the ones which we know. That scientists have shown one other possibility is neither surprising, nor worthy of such breathless histrionics. Interesting? Sure, but hardly world-shattering; which is why this announcement of old research didn't even make the CBC news.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:05 PM on December 3, 2010


That is perhaps the most hilarious comment I've read all week.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2010


Glad you're so amused Marisa. The story finally hit CBC's Quirks and Quarks today. Dr. Oremland's analysis is that science fiction speculation has yet again shown to be more aligned with reality than established scientific dogma, and that this experiment clearly opens the door to the long-mooted possibility that the chemical basis for life will likely be far more broadly based than our current limited understand has shown. He also comments on poisons and toxicity, and how these concepts are, in fact, relative. While conservatively almost - yet not quite - dismissing the long-standing SF idea of silicon-based life forms, he does conject that Selenium might be the next candidate for this kind of experiment.

Scientists have always wondered, though, if it might be possible to have life based on a different set of chemicals, either here on Earth or possibly "out there." And the answer, as of this week, seems to be yes.

As suggested, the takeaway for this is that internet rumour-mongers were hauling in a half-filled net. Neither Dr. Oremland, nor anyone at the steady CBC, was even close to being overboard enough to liken the significance of this to the Kennedy assassination. The broadcast can be listened to here.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:03 PM on December 4, 2010


Rosie Redfield at the University of British Columbia wrote a critical review of this paper. Her conclusion:
Bottom line: Lots of flim-flam, but very little reliable information. The mass spec measurements may be very well done (I lack expertise here), but their value is severely compromised by the poor quality of the inputs. If this data was presented by a PhD student at their committee meeting, I'd send them back to the bench to do more cleanup and controls...

I don't know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they're unscrupulously pushing NASA's 'There's life in outer space!' agenda. I hesitate to blame the reviewers, as their objections are likely to have been overruled by Science's editors in their eagerness to score such a high-impact publication.
posted by grouse at 8:14 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Alex Bradley at Harvard contributes his analysis of this finding:
There's been a lot of hype around the news of GFAJ-1, the microbe claimed to substitute arsenate for phosphate in its DNA. In the midst of all the excitement, one thing has been overlooked:

The claim is almost certainly wrong.
posted by grouse at 2:09 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is That Arsenic-Loving Bug — Formerly an Alien — a Dog?
posted by grouse at 6:51 AM on December 6, 2010


A story in Slate: "This Paper Should Not Have Been Published"

Nature: "Researchers question the science behind last week's revelation of arsenic-based life."
Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology research fellow at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, and the study's lead author, refused to address criticisms. "We are not going to engage in this sort of discussion," she wrote in an e-mail to Nature. "Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated."

But Jonathan Eisen, a microbiologist at the University of California, Davis, calls this "ludicrous", after a NASA press release drew media attention with claims of an "astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life", a theme that Wolfe-Simon echoed at the briefing. "It is absurd for them to say that they are only going have the discussion in the scientific literature, when they started it," he says.
posted by grouse at 10:10 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


A comment by the author of the Slate article:
The authors of the paper declined my invitations to address their scientific critics in my Slate article, saying that such an exchange should only take place in a peer-reviewed journal. This afternoon, one of them, Ron Ormeland, gave a lecture at the Carnegie Institution, streamed live on NASA’s web site, in which he explicitly referred to exactly the criticisms raised by the people I wrote about. And then, after his talk, he fielded questions from Carnegie scientists, who asked exactly the same kinds of questions raised by the scientists in my article.

Discuss.
posted by grouse at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2010


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